Glass plant delayed report on toxics

Date: 22 November 2004
Pilkington North America waited more than two months in late 2002 to tell a Naplate couple their property contained elevated levels of arsenic and sought personal information about them during the interim, an official with the glass manufacturer testified Thursday.

But John Keil, director of Pilkington's environmental department, said the Toledo, Ohio-based company was acting under the direction of the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency when it gathered facts about Lloyd and Vicki Ludwig via the Internet.

"You were looking for kids, young children, right?" Naperville attorney Shawn Collins, representing Naplate residents, asked during the second day of a liability trial against the glass company.

"The U.S. EPA was looking for information," Keil replied.

A report on testing at the Ludwig property was prepared Sept. 4, 2002. The Ludwigs, who had no children living at home, received a letter Nov. 25 with the news that soil samples had levels of arsenic ranging from 9.14 parts per million to 248 parts per million, according to documents shared with jurors.

The level of arsenic considered normal for the area would be 5.3 parts per million. Keil said readings from the Ludwig property didn't pose an immediate danger but could pose a "chronic or long-term" health threat.

The Ludwigs eventually were relocated for a few months at Pilkington's expense as their yard near the glass plant was excavated and refilled with new dirt. Their neighbors, the Kelly and Lori Aubry family, had even higher levels of arsenic on their property and are still living in an Ottawa townhouse.

The families' plight is at the center of a federal class-action lawsuit filed in February 2003 that accuses Pilkington of tainting the entire village - its yards, homes and drinking water. Attorneys for Naplate's 250 home owners say Pilkington, for years, delayed cleaning up tons of arsenic used in glass-making at the riverside factory from 1931 to 1970 under a previous owner, Libbey Owens Ford.

Company attorneys say there is contamination only in an aquifer beneath the factory - the village gets its water supply from a deeper source - and at the Ludwig and Aubry properties. Landfill material from the factory was dumped at those properties years ago, they say.

Testimony Thursday from some Naplate residents suggested the debris ended up elsewhere in the LaSalle County town. During the building of a home addition, Scott Lawry said, his yard yielded chunks of green and blue glass, some as big as basketballs.

Also Thursday, Clarence Smith, a toxic-cleanup coordinator with the Illinois EPA, said the Pilkington complex could have qualified as a federal "Super Fund" site because it received a rating of 56.95, higher than the 28.5 minimum that triggers consideration. In the late-1990s, the IEPA rejected the company's plans for remediation because they didn't conform to federal safety standards, he said.

The IEPA shifted the case to its federal counterpart. Pilkington officials say they continue to work with the U.S. EPA on remediation plans.

The trial, which began Wednesday at Chicago's Dirksen Federal Building, is expected to last several days. The jury will determine only liability. If the company loses, a separate trial would determine damages.

600450 Glass plant delayed report on toxics
Date: 22 November 2004

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